Archive for January, 2010

Black and White Cloud of Retaliation: Part IV

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Black and White Cloud of Retaliation: Part III

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Black and White Cloud of Retaliation: Part II

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Black and White Cloud of Retaliation: Part I

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Alleged Killer on the Loose Armed and Dangerous

Armed and dangerous, Justin P. Welch is on the loose. 

Welch, 26, escaped the custody of guards in the wee hours of January 13 at a rest stop in Van Buren, Arkansas.  Reports indicate that Welch stabbed and disarmed one guard then fired at another near I-40.  Welch then gained access to the prisoner transport van and fled eastbound on the interstate. 

In November, a criminal complaint charged Welch as a party to a crime to the First Degree Intentional Homicide of Kimberly Smith. 

On October 1, Smith’s live-in boyfriend, Timothy McMickle, discovered Smith unresponsive and bloody at their Oconomowoc, Wisconsin residence around 8:30 a.m.  First responders found that Smith, who had expired, had her hands bound together.  An autopsy revealed that the Smith died of multiple stab wounds. 

Searching the area near the crime scene, officers located a knife and pair of bloody gloves in a sewer a short distance from the residence.  DNA from inside a rubber glove matched a sample in the National Data Bank collected from Justin Patrick Welch during a stint in a California prison. Investigators showed Welch’s photograph to Smith’s family and friends, but they had never seen the man before.  Moreover, Welch did not have any ties to Wisconsin.

When contacted by investigators, the suspect’s estranged wife, Ariele Welch, reported that she visited Justin Welch in Rosarito, Mexico in May 2009 and that the suspect may be using the name of his step-brother, Ricky G. Freeman. The suspect’s mother knew that Justin Welch had resided with a man named “Jack.”

Oconomowoc Detective Andrew Rich later called “Jack’s” telephone number and identified the man as Jack E. Johnson, who stated that his best friend is Darren M. Wold—Kimberly Smith’s ex-boyfriend and the father of the victim’s four-year-old son. Court records, as well as Wold’s attorney, drew a picture of a “highly acrimonious” child custody dispute.

Working in conjunction with a Wells Fargo fraud investigator, detectives obtained records from Jack E. Johnson’s debt card.  Johnson had purchased an American Airlines ticket for a September 28, 2009 trip from San Diego to Milwaukee—36 miles to the east of Oconomowoc—for Ricky G. Freeman.  Records from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security showed that Johnson and Freeman entered the U.S. from Mexico five hours prior to the flight’s departure. Freeman’s return flight left Milwaukee on October 1 at 10:45 a.m.

Another witness from a Walmart store in Lubbock, Texas, where Darren Wold resided, told investigators Jack Johnson sent a $700 money gram to Wold on September 25. Johnson picked-up the money gram at a Walmart in San Deigo on September 26.  Detectives continued to follow the money trail that painted a picture of a murder for hire scheme.

Investigators canvassed area hotels and soon discovered that Freeman — the alias used by Welch — had rented a room at the Lake Country Inn in Oconomowoc. Telephone records showed several calls from the inn to Johnson’s telephone.  On the day Kimberly Smith was murdered, an employee from the Lake Country Inn reported giving Freeman a ride to Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Welch, Wold, and Johnson face charges of being parties to the crime of Kimberly Smith’s murder.  If convicted, all three could receive a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Welch’s daring escape is proof that he doesn’t plan on going quietly into the night.  Let’s hope the prisoner transport vehicle is equipped with a GPS system and that Welch is taken into custody before he can harm others. 

For updates on the search for Justin P. Welch, visit www.jsonline.com, the Web site of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Follow Steve Spingola (MilwSpinny) at Twitter.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010


Wise Men Let Dead Wise Guys Lie

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicde detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010


Police Arrest Man in Altoona Homicide Case

Earlier today, police in Altoona announced an arrest in the Theresa Still death investigation.  Deputies located Greg Grubenot, the victim’s live-in boyfriend, just outside the Forest County town of Crandon, located in northeastern Wisconsin. Apparently, the suspect is not a fan of television police dramas, as authorities ascertained his location through credit card activity. 

I wrote about this tragic case in two posts at my former blog, From the Notebook of a Homicide Detective (sleuthwiththeproof.blogspot.com). Similar to the Sandra Bertolas case, the ‘who dun it’ aspect of the inquiry seemed rather straightforward. It’s the what, when, where, why and how questions that remained unclear. 

In the first post, Altoona Tangled Web of Murder, I noted that investigators would carefully comb the vehicle used to transport the body for DNA evidence.  I also hinted that cellular phone records would likely provide valuable information. 

In the comments section of this post, Mike wrote, “I’m not seeing much of a mystery or a tangled web to this – it is pretty obvious who the murderer is. His parents live on my road a few blocks down and once the police showed up we figured the mystery was solved.”

Clearly, the Sandra Bertolas disappearance illustrates that developing a solid suspect is just one component of an investigation.  Good detectives are Curious Georges that dig below the surface as far as the evidence will take them. 

“I don’t know, Mike,” I replied, “do you think this guy used his own truck to get rid of the body?  What if no traces of blood are found in the truck?  Would that convince you that another person is involved if not in the murder at least in the disposal of the corpse? Where’s the murder weapon and the bloody clothes of the killer?  I think there’s many unanswered questions.  Did this guy have someone help him along the way?” 

Another person commented that she worked at the Super Target in Eau Claire and heard that Ms. Still’s vehicle was located on Monday morning (December 28).  However, she believed the presumed killer probably walked over four miles from the Super Target to his Altoona residence. 

I replied that the suspect might have received a ride from the area near the Super Target.  In a recent homicide in Germantown, Wisconsin, a man strangled his stepson to death in a Wal-mart parking lot and called for assistance afterwards.  “If the suspect walked,” I noted, “why not ditch the van closer to his home or a short distance from the tavern?”

I then authored a second post, The Pieces of the Puzzle, identifying four key points police would likely address, the foremost being the establishment of an investigative timeline using statements, video surveillance, credit card/ATM activity, as well as telephone records.

“The information made public seems to suggest,” I speculated, “that the suspect was in a hurry to discard the body and did not pre-select the dump site. He may have traveled to an area he was familiar with — close enough to return home before someone noted him missing…The scene at the Super Target hints that the suspect may have had some assistance from another party.” 

Earlier today, the Eau Claire County District Attorney’s office released the criminal complaint charging Gregory A. Gubernot with First Degree Intentional Homicide.  The complaint relies heavily on statements and cell phone records to create an investigative timeline (http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wqow/Gubernot_criminal_complaint.pdf). 

Information contained in the complaint affirms my suggestion that Ms. Still’s body wasn’t conveyed in Gubernot’s truck. Transporting a body in a pick-up’s bed, even if the corpse is covered, seemed too risky. On the windy interstate, the driver of a passing semi-truck may get a look at the contents in the bed.  Moreover, police located Still’s vehicle abandoned adjacent to Highway 53, a corridor with easy access to the interstate and Adams County.

The complaint further alleges that, after parking Still’s car, Gubernot walked to the nearby Menard’s Store and telephoned a friend for a ride.  Terrance Bourget told investigators that he picked-up Grubenot from the store at about 11:30 a.m. on December 28.  According to the complaint, “Eau Claire Officer O’Neill, an evidence technician, located an approximate quarter-size mark of liquid substance which appeared to be possibly human blood,” on the rear of Still’s car.  DNA analysis confirmed the blood belong to Theresa Still.

The location of Ms. Still’s body strongly confirms my hunch that the killer roamed the sparsely traveled Adams County back roads and quickly discarded her corpse just 60 to 75 feet from the road.  Had the suspect taken the time to carry Ms. Still’s remains another 100 yards into the woods, a passing hunter may not have discovered the body so quickly.

The information contained in the criminal complaint depicts  the investigators’ attention to detail.  The law enforcement agencies involved did an outstanding job developing a timeline, collecting evidence, and tracking the suspect.

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Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Vanished but Not Forgotten

To read this article, purchase the Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010